Updated: Nov 18, 2020
How it started:
Like a good stories- it involves a girl.
I had recently moved to New Mexico and gotten into trail running. The thought was to run a half marathon to get in shape for hunting season, but the real motivation was to keep my one year old chocolate lab from destroying the house while I was at work. Following that, I had a very successful year elk hunting while backpacking where I got two bulls back to back. This lead me to start to look for pack animals, thinking it would help me get back further in the backcountry and alleviate the painful pack meat packouts.
Insert the girl- I met Jessica while she was an extension agent in the county I where I working. She had the truck, trailer, and knowledge about animals that I lacked. I was dead set on llamas. Or maybe goats. I researched every corner of the internet and scoured craiglist for llamas.
I finally found some llamas in Colorado, which I looked at, but they were pretty wild. One male ran circles around me as I walked around the yard. I checked into a local llama rescue in Albuquerque, and tried to meet with them, but that did not work out ether. I also did not have $2,000-3,000 for a trained pack llama.
At some point in my research, I found Mountain Ridge Gear, and their burro blog. They make all sorts of donkey pack gear and have a great YouTube Channel about hunting/packing with burros. Then came the burro racing. Trail running with the animal that I can also pack with? Done deal! Seems easy enough (insert laughs).
How I found a burro:
I looked at donkey rescues such as Longhopes Donkey Rescue in Colorado. They have some burros already pack saddle trained but they have specific requirements (acre+ of land per burro) in order to adopt which I couldn’t meet. Additionally, you don’t get to title the animal, so essentially you’re leasing it, long term. That just seemed weird to me.
I posted on a horse group on facebook that I was a looking for a halter broke donkey to pack and race with. The result was a few great donkeys but many had major issues. However one person messaged me about her black donkey who was pack trained and a absolute gentleman. She was trusting enough to meet with me and lease me Cisco plus a pack saddle and panniers for a free. That has turned out to be a hell of a deal, he is an incredible animal.
I found Julia on craigslist, and really lucked out. She was gentle enough and hopped right into my trailer for $225. With Jessica’s help I bought some basic supplies, moved into a house with a small stockyard and the rest is history- I’ll blog about that later.
Investing in your animal:
I’m going to assume you have a place to keep them. A shade structure of sorts and maybe an acre for them to run around in. If you don’t – Maybe plan on an additional $2k in fencing, and materials to build a shed for them, and maybe one for hay.
I bought a 1998 CM 2 horse trailer for $2,200 from a friend. Tires were shot so there’s $400 and the bearings needed repacked so another $200. Then title and registration for about $150. Trailer grand total: $2950. A two horse trailer works great for them, and my Chevy 1500 pulls it fine.
Both my burros get one flake of grass per animal twice a day. They go through about a bale every four days. This equates to 91 bales per year, but after spillage its probably a easy 100. I can get decent grass hay in small 2 strand bales for about $7 so your looking at about $700 in feed.
Vet & Brand Inspection
If you animal didn’t come with a brand inspection then you’ll need to get with a brand inspector and have them give them the official paperwork for your animal. That’s about $75 one time fee for the life of the animal. You need this to take them anywhere. Then some shots each year at about $50, and some dewormer. So annual “vet” cost of about $100. I’ve had mine two years and haven’t had any major health issues, yet.
If you want to travel out of state you’ll need a coggins test once a year ($70) and a health certificate ($50) that is only good for 30 days. If you want to go repetitively out of state you’ll need one each time, if it’s outside the 30 day period from your last.
You’ll need to find a good farrier (hoof trimmer). And the good part can be tough. Most of them are decent enough but trying to find one that shows up on the day scheduled, or remotely close to the appointment time can be difficult. I don’t shoe mine so the cost is usually around $50 per animal for a trim every 6 weeks. So yearly cost of $800 at $100 per visit.
I did this for about a year and I started doing it on my own and have a farrier look at them about once a year. I’ll do a blog on that at some point. But the learning curve is real rough when your learning off Youtube. I would recommend you have someone do it for the first year. If your animals needs special work, because the hooves are screwed up, don’t think about doing that yourself.
You need a halter, lead rope, hoof pick, curry comb, buckets, and maybe hay nets so we will call that $75 per animal.
I’m going to assume you want to pack with them too. You can find super basic burro packsaddles for $300 and nice ones for about $500. Mountain Ridge Gear makes great ones, and when I stop spending money on other things I will get another. You also need two cinches per saddle at about $30 a piece so $60 a animal. And a couple of packsaddle pads at least $50 a piece.
Then you need the packsaddle bags (panniers). You can find some cheap ones for probably $50 but if you want decent your looking at $200-$300 to actually carry some weight.
Then you’ll need a highline, some hobbles, and other random things and we will call that $200.
Fortunately all that gear keeps its value pretty well if its well taken care of and not bottom shelf junk. I would bet after a few years of use, you could still get 75% resale from the tack (saddles, pads, panniers).
Cost of ownership
If you roughly add that up you get a initial startup cost for your two burros that you paid $250 of about $4950. The annual cost for them will be about $940 assuming you want to do some traveling with them.
Is it worth it?
Financially are they best option to get some meat out of the backcountry? Hell no. Buy a DeLorme In-Reach and hire a packer if you want that.
But it depends on your measuring stick.
With all the friends I’ve made pack burro racing, with all the miles of country I would never see, with all the life lessons about patience, with the new animal packing community I’ve discovered-
With all those things accounted for- the answer is yes. It is worth every penny.